Sunday, January 22, 2023



As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 4:12-23

Please excuse me if you have heard this story several times. I have only one life, so I have to repeat some of my old experiences once in a while. As some of you already know from my many years of preaching at the Cathedral, at Bellarmine and writing in The Record, that I got my “call” when I was about six years old. No, God did not speak to me from the clouds. Mary did not appear to me in church. Something, however, happened when I was six years old that I have never forgotten. Since I was born and grew up in Rhodelia where there were no barber shops, an elderly man up the road by the name of Alvey Manning cut my hair for $.25. One day, one of his nephews who had recently been ordained, Father Henry Vessels, came for a visit. I just happened to be there for a haircut. Father Vessels paid no attention to me and I don’t even remember talking to him that day. At some point, he had taken off his Roman collar and coat and laid them on one of the beds. I don’t know what possessed me, but I sneaked into the bedroom, held the collar up to my neck and looked at myself in the mirror. Not knowing what got into me, I dropped it like a hot potato, as if I had broken every religious taboo in the Catholic Church.  Even though I was only six years old, I have never forgotten that experience.

The next time the subject of priesthood came up was a year later. I was in the second grade when Sister Mary Ancilla asked us to tell the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I can still remember thinking, “should I or shouldn’t I” tell them! I can still remember urging myself to go ahead and say “priest” whether they laughed at me or not! The only problem was, I proceeded to flunk the altar boy test, not once, not twice, but three times! This prompted Sister Mary Ancilla to say to me, “Ronnie! You’re a good kid, but I don’t think you will ever be any good around the altar!” (As punishment, I made her sit in the front pew at my First Mass.) 

Throughout grade school, unfazed by Sister Mary Ancilla’s negative evaluation of my possible calling, I did not dwell on the idea of being a priest, but it was always there in the back of my mind. When it came time to go to high school in 1958, I found out that the church would accept young men to start their seminary training out of the eighth grade. Against the advice of almost everybody who knew me, even my pastor Father Felix Johnson, I decided to apply. He didn't want to fill out the papers for my going to the seminary until I groveled. Even then, he predicted I wouldn't make it to Christmas.  A month or two later, at barely fourteen years of age, I left home to begin a twelve-year seminary program to become a priest. Father White called me into his office during my second year of high school seminary and told me he was sending me home because "you, Mr. Knott, are a hopeless case." I had to grovel again for a second chance. (Actually, when I think about it, I have had a lot of experience at groveling!)

Finally, on May 16, 1970 I was ordained! It was hard, very hard, an uphill battle most of the way, but I never looked back, I have never been through an identity crisis for more than a day or two, and even today, I would not trade with anybody. However, even on my ordination day, a woman came up to me and asked how many years I was in seminary. When I answered 12, she stepped back and gasped, "My God! You could have been something!" Most of the time, almost fifty-three years now, I have loved doing what priests do. At age 78, almost 79, with the finish line in sight, I still hope to finish my life as a priest.

In today’s gospel Jesus notices two sets of brothers, fishing. He calls them to follow him, to become his disciples.  We are told they immediately dropped their nets, two of them even dropped their father, and followed Jesus.  Unlike the resistant and foot-dragging response of the Prophet Jonah, these guys are decisive and passionate.       

Throughout Scripture, different people respond differently to God’s call. Abraham and Sarah were old, “one foot in the grave” as the scriptures put it, when they were called to be the father and mother of God’s “chosen people.” Sarah was even caught snickering in her tent about the very idea of becoming a mother in her old age. Moses, who had some sort of speech impediment, tried to beg off when God called him to lead his people out of slavery. Because of his youth, David wasn’t even called in from the fields for the selection process to be King of Israel, yet God chose him over all his older and wiser brothers. The Prophet Isaiah tried to beg off because he had a foul mouth, but God chose him to be a prophet anyway, after washing his mouth out with a hot coal. The Prophet Jeremiah also tried to beg off, using the excuse that he was too young and pathetic at public speaking. God chose him anyway. Mary was barely a teenager when God called her. Paul was a fanatic Christian basher, but God called him to make a 180 degree turn and convert thousands to the Christian way of life.  Sts. Francis of Assisi and Augustine of Hippo were playboys of the worst kind. The scholarly St. Thomas Aquinas, when he was younger, was nicknamed “the dumb ox.” He was so fat that they had to cut out part of the table so that he could reach his plate. He became one of the Church’s most brilliant theologians. Elizabeth Ann Seton was a married Episcopalian when God called her to convert to Catholicism, to become a nun on the death of her husband, to start schools, orphanages and hospitals all over the eastern coast of the United States and finally to become one of a handful of American saints. These men and women join a long list, not only of very ordinary people, but also a long list of misfits, adulterers, losers, weaklings, incompetents, thieves and idiots that God has called to important work.

You are also called to called to carry on some part of Christ’s ministry to the world. Yes, you! God has a special job for you to do in your life that no one else can do. You cannot use the excuse that you are too young or too old, too unworthy or too short on talent. One of the most regular themes in scripture is this: God does not use the world’s standards for choosing those he calls. No, he “chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him.”

Personally, I have always thought that marriage and the raising of children was the hardest of vocation. I have always admired those of you who were called to marriage and who have raised families. I don't know how you do it! I learned that when it comes to marriage, you cannot judge a book by its cover. I have presided at weddings where I had great confidence that the new couple would surely make it, but didn't. I have presided at other weddings where I was very doubtful they would last a year only to help them celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries!  Obviously, God knows more about what he was doing than I did! 

From personal experience. I learned a long time ago, both as a seminarian myself and as a seminary staff member for fourteen years, that the best seminarians do not always make the best priests! In my own case, very few people had much hope for me making it to priesthood, much less lasting this long! I am pretty much surprised myself, but as Mary said to the angel, “with God, anything is possible.” 

Maybe you are young and have not yet heard your life’s call. If not, just remember that God has his eye of you right now, so be ready to "drop everything" and "go for it!" Maybe you are right in the middle of living out your vocation or maybe you have completed your life's vocation. Either way, I hope you can look back over your vocation and feel how I feel about my own call. My vocation is summed up in four words at the top of my new tombstone down in Meade County - “simply amazed – forever grateful.”  








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